The automobile, a four-wheeled vehicle designed for passenger transportation and powered by an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, has revolutionized the lives of the world’s inhabitants. Approximately 1.4 billion vehicles are in operation worldwide. They carry about 4.3 trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) each year. This is a tremendous amount of travel and a remarkable accomplishment for the automobile industry. Modern life, from shopping to work and school, would be impossible or at least highly inconvenient without cars.
Automobiles come in a staggering variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. Some are designed mainly for sport, while others are built to carry people over long distances or on rough terrain. All have a common structure, however. The chassis, analogous to the skeletal system of the human body, provides support for all of the other systems and components of an automobile, including the wheels, suspension, steering, and braking mechanisms. The body, which protects the passengers from the elements, provides safety, comfort, and a pleasing appearance to the driver and passengers.
It is difficult to say exactly when the automobile was invented. Various inventors and engineers contributed to its development. Karl Benz of Germany and Henry Ford of the United States are generally credited with creating the first modern automobiles. The early automobiles were mostly for wealthy people. Henry Ford used manufacturing methods to reduce the price of his Model T automobile, making them affordable for many middle-class families. This was the beginning of mass production, a process that has since transformed every industry.
With the advent of the automobile, dozens of industries and jobs developed to provide the parts and fuel needed for the automobiles. These included rubber and vulcanized gas, the manufacture of plastics, and new services like gas stations. The automobile also gave people more freedom of movement and led to changes in urban design. It also allowed for new ways to transport goods, and it created new types of businesses like grocery stores and convenience stores.
The most important effect of the automobile, however, was social and personal. It gave people a freedom of movement that they had never before experienced, and it opened up new opportunities for leisure activities. The automobile also helped develop new industries and provided more efficient means of travel for government, police, fire, and utility workers. It also increased economic mobility and allowed people to shop, live farther from their jobs, and visit family or friends in a greater variety of places. In addition, the ability to make regular car payments has been instrumental in establishing credit for people who might otherwise not qualify for a mortgage or other loans.